Outer Hip Muscle Stretches for Low Back Pain Relief

Muscles located at the side of the hip, which include the gluteus medius, piriformis, and hip external rotator muscles contribute greatly to the well being of your lower back, as well as your posture. When these muscles get tight, as they often do, you may find that along with hip pain, your lower back hurts—but you can't figure out why.

In a nutshell, tight outer hip muscles, also known as the hip abductors, can pull on the pelvis and slightly alter its position; this, in turn, may influence the muscles that support the alignment of your spine.

The key is to not allow yourself to get stuck in spinal misalignment. The best way to deal with low back pain that is either caused or complicated by tight outer hip muscles is to stretch the muscles mentioned above.

While a number of ways exist to release and stretch these key posture muscles, the most important thing is that you do at least some of them regularly. 


Stretch Your Outer Thigh Muscles

Perhaps the most basic outer hip stretch is all you need. This beginner move may get you started releasing the hip abductor muscles. And going forward, it may well become a staple exercise in your maintenance routine.

Here's how:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bend one knee at the hip to bring it up toward your chest; repeat this move with the other leg.
  3. Once both legs are up, place the ankle of one leg onto the thigh of the other, just above the knee. 
  4. Try to keep the knee of the leg being stretched from inching its way toward the center of your body. Why? Because it puts that hip in a position where the muscle is no longer challenged to lengthen. Keeping the knee pointed outward—without unduly forcing it—is what focuses the stretch in the hip. 
  5. Stay in the stretch for about 30 seconds, at a level that feels like something is happening but is not painful.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

Adapted Seated Spinal Twist

Young adults doing side stretch in mat class
PhotoAlto/Eric Audras / Getty Images

You can adapt a spinal twisting move so that it also provides a gentle release experience for the outer hip.

If you have back problems ask your doctor or physical therapist if it's OK to rotate your spine before trying this.

Here's how:

  1. Begin by sitting with both legs extended straight in front of you. It's OK, in fact, it's recommended, to lean back and support your body weight by putting your hands on the floor behind you. Another way to get the same effect is to do the twist with your back against a wall.
  2. Bring one leg over the opposite thigh, and place the foot on the floor. The top leg/foot should cross over the extended bottom leg near the knee.
  3. Extend the arm that is on the same side as your outstretched leg, and place it so the elbow presses against the outside of the bent knee. The forearm will be parallel to the lower leg.
  4. Use the outstretched arm to press the knee away from the center of your body, thereby accentuating the spinal rotation and the concurrent hip stretch. As you do this, think about dropping your hip back down to the floor,  with the ultimate goal of having both sitting bones contacting the floor equally.
  5. The combination of dropping your hip and pushing the knee away from the body may increase hip release action. You'll also likely feel a stretch in your low back. This is due to the rotation that is very much a part of the exercise.
  6. Stay in the stretch for at least 30 seconds, unless the position brings on any pain.
  7. Repeat the exercise on the other side.

Strengthen the Adductors

Stretch hip abductors by strengthening hip adductors.

nikitabuida/Deposit Photos

And now for some strategy. Along with stretches and adapted yoga moves, another way to release chronic tension from outer hip muscles is to work and strengthen the inner thighs.

This technique is more subtle than the previous exercises, but strong inner thigh muscles (called adductors) may contribute to overall outer hip flexibility.

Here's how:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place a small softball in between your knees.
  3. Squeeze and release.
  4. Repeat about 10-15 times.
  5. Do up to 3 sets once or twice per day.

Balance with Abductor Strengthening

Mature Woman Doing Leg Lifts
vgajic / Getty Images.

As you’re working on strengthening the inner leg muscles (the adductors), for balance you’ll also want to incorporate moves to strengthen the outer hip muscles (the abductors).

Leg lifts are a great way to reach the outer hip muscles. Here’s how:

  1. Lie on your left side, using your left arm to support your torso at whatever height feels most comfortable (for example, you can place your elbow on the floor so you’re in a half-reclining position, or rest your head in your hand for a more challenging pose).
  2. The bottom leg—the left in this case—can be extended straight, or bent at the knee to help you keep your balance.
  3. Holding your right (top) leg straight, lift it from the hip.
  4. Hold the lifted leg for one to three seconds, or to your comfort level.
  5. Lower the leg to the floor, and repeat.
  6. Try one set of 10 leg lifts to start, increasing repetitions or sets as you’re able.
  7. Now perform the same exercise lying on your right side. 
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  1. Lee SW, Kim SY. Effects of hip exercises for chronic low-back pain patients with lumbar instability. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015;27(2):345-8. doi:10.1589/jpts.27.345

  2. Hrysomallis C. Hip adductors' strength, flexibility, and injury risk. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(5):1514-7. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a3c6c4